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Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Run: Tens Of Thousands Honor Firefighters In Annual Race

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It was an emotional day in Lower Manhattan Sunday, as 30,000 people took part in the 12th Annual Tunnel to Towers 5k Run and Walk in memory of those who were killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

As CBS 2's Andrea Grymes reported, the runners participated with goals ranging from raising money for charity to honoring New York City's firefighters.

"It's an honor to be part of this with everybody," one woman said.

Among those cheering on the runners were celebrities and politicians, including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who sounded the starting horn for the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 participants who made the trek from Red Hook, Brooklyn, to the World Trade Center.

"It began with about 800. It's now about 30,000," Giuliani told CBS 2, which has made its entire broadcast of the race available in this post. "And it's a wonderful thing to watch what the Siller family has done, transforming this now into a tremendous fund-raising nationwide for our bravest, our most wonderful people who get injured for us in the line of duty. ... Stephen would be so proud that his sacrifice has turned into helping people who need the most help."

The race is named after and inspired by Stephen Siller, the firefighter who on Sept. 11, 2001, abandoned his truck and ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel with all his gear toward the World Trade Center. He was killed when the South Tower collapsed.

"This day is extraordinary," said Stephen Siller's widow, Sara Siller. "It's not only a day for us to remember -- to reflect -- but it's also a day for us to move forward and run and help others who need us now."

Siller was off that day, planning to play golf. When he heard what was going on to the World Trade Center he knew he had to help.

He ran on foot in 75 pounds of gear through the tunnel, before he sacrificed his life.

Actor Gary Sinise partners with the Stephen Siller Foundation to build homes for wounded soldiers.

"It's a great partnership," the "CSI: NY" star told CBS 2. "A lot of the funds that we raise here today will go toward the Building for America's Bravest program, which is our program to build specially designed homes for many, many severely wounded."

"Boardwalk Empire" star Steve Buscemi, a former New York City firefighter, also attended the race.

"It means a lot to me to be here today," he said.

Some firefighters traveled all the way from England to run through the tunnel in their gear.

"To show our respects, really, the international solidarity that exists between firefighters," one of the U.K. firefighters said. "No matter our national boundaries, culture, the role of a firefighter is the same the world over."

And wounded veterans started first in the race. Three hundred forty-three firefighters greeted them when they came out of the tunnel, each wearing a banner with a picture of a firefighter murdered on 9/11.

"Knowing Uncle Steve, he'd want this to be about his 342 brothers that he lost, and to be about the soldiers now," said Siller's nephew, Robert Vogt.

Some of the runners told WCBS 880's Ginny Kosola that they thought about Siller throughout the day.

"I imagined, as I was running, the smoke coming toward him," said Hallie Wolfe, 71, of Ossining, in Westchester County.

Added Carlos Flores, 11, of Greenwich, Conn.: "He really cared for his job and how he saved people."

Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Run: Tens Of Thousands Honor Firefighters In Annual Race

Janine Farrell, of Staten Island, was an NYPD detective who worked at Ground Zero. Her best friend's twin brother was killed on 9/11.

"It's so inspiration when you see all the young guys here from the Army and the Marines, and everybody comes together when they're in the tunnel."

Over the years, the foundation started in Siller's memory has raised more than $30 million.

The money has helped those in need in a variety of ways, from building special homes for wounded veterans to helping victims of Superstorm Sandy.

"My house was under 8 foot of water," said Butch Probanski of Staten Island. "I didn't call them. They just showed up."

There are now Tunnel to Towers runs all over the world, including in Afghanistan.

CBS 2 is a proud sponsor of Tunnel to Towers.

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